Sunday, December 31, 2006

on the eve of 2007

Photo: Fraser River at Derby Reach Campsite - Langley, B.C. We walked here yesterday before going to see a matinee of "The Nativity Story." Excellent film! Read Catez's review of it (she sums it up very well). And here is an interview with the film's director, Catherine Hardwicke (by Robin Parrish - Infuze Magazine).

Friday, December 29, 2006

book review - Across the China Sky

Title: Across the China Sky
Author: C. Hope Flinchbaugh
Publisher: Bethany House, 2006
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
ISBN: 9780764202391

After Liko says goodbye to his fiancee Mei Lin at the Tanching train station so she can spend the summer in Shanghai helping in an underground orphanage, he thinks the months will drag. But then the beautiful Jade arrives to offer an opportunity for Liko and other house church leaders to study at the prestigious Haggai Institute in Singapore. Soon an excited Liko and about two dozen others are being whisked across the countryside in vans with darkened windows. Before long, though, the premonitions some have had about this trip prove true as group members are divested of their ID cards and cell phones, then separated and driven to remote locations for indoctrination by Eastern Lightning cult members.

Meanwhile in Shanghai Mei Lin finds herself falling in love with the kids in the orphanage – especially Little Mei, the newborn girl she rescues from the trash. Even she is surprised at the strength of her maternal instincts and because of her own difficult secret, dreams that Little Mei will be the answer to a prayer. It’s no wonder, then, that she’s upset when a childless couple insist they would like to adopt Little Mei.

The plot develops as Flinchbaugh follows these two story threads in chapters alternately narrated from the viewpoint of Mei Lin and various characters on the Haggai Institute trip including Liko, Li Na (Liko’s mother), and Kwan So (Mei Lin’s father). Because the reader doesn’t have much more information than the characters do, it's a suspenseful read.

The main characters make interesting studies. Though I have not read Flinchbaugh’s first book about Mei Lin (Daughter of China), I had no trouble relating to this sincere, humble, hardworking, and likeable young woman. Liko matures as he sees the folly of his headstrong, though well-intentioned ways. His discerning and intuitive mother Li Na also plays a key role in the story. The only downside to the characters were all those unfamiliar Chinese names. More than once I had to look back to remind myself of who was who.

Shanghai and Tanching, a village in the countryside, are the settings for this tale of modern China. I found it somewhat disorienting to be in the presence of the old (crowded, simple houses and plowing with water buffalo) and the new (vans and cell phones) simultaneously. The social fallout from recent Chinese laws and family policy enter the story through the orphanage scenes. And of course the Chinese government’s stand on unregistered religious groups is pivotal to this tale of people involved in China’s illegal house church movement.

A main theme of the story is deception. The characters deal with this on several levels, grappling with how it happened that even the most astute and mature of them got drawn into this misadventure, and facing the issue of how to discern unorthodox biblical teaching. In this department, besides emphasizing the necessity of the usual things like knowing the Bible, and spending time in prayer and fasting before making decisions, the characters also exhibit an openness to things like premonitions, dreams, and visions to a degree not typically seen in the west.

Flinchbaugh’s firsthand experience with Chinese Christians makes her a credible witness to these things, however. Judging from her writing credits, she has had a career-long interest in telling the story of the persecuted church, having published many pieces on this subject in a variety of publications. She developed this particular story after meeting with and interviewing Chinese house church leaders who had themselves been kidnaped by Eastern Lightning cult members.

The story comes to a satisfying close, though some ends remain untied. Perhaps there is a sequel in the works? Across the China Sky is Flinchbaugh’s second book about Mei Lin and I’m sure readers would welcome yet another installment in the life of this courageous young character.

be absolutely His

Do we enjoy our work, love our work, virtually worship our work so that our devotion to Jesus is off center? Do we put our emphasis on service, or usefulness, or being productive in working for God -- at His expense? Do we strive to prove our own significance? To make a difference in the world. To carve our names in marble on the munuments of time?

The call of God blocks the path of all such deeply human tendencies. We are not primarily called to do something or go somewhere; we are called to Someone. We are not called first to special work but to God. the key to answering the call is to be devoted to no one and nothing but God himself. As Chambers says, "The men and women our Lord sends out on His enterprises are the ordinary human stuff, plus dominating devotion to Himself wrought by the Holy Spirit. The most frequent phrase in his writings: "Be absolutely His."

- Os Guinness in The Call

Thursday, December 28, 2006

music while you read

I've long wanted to play music on the blog. And now I've just found a site - - from where I can stream music!

At the top of this post (and also installed little way down in the right sidebar, below the links to my other blogs and above the "Blogcritics" button) is a player. Click on the arrow and listen to James Taylor's rendition of "Who Comes This Night" while you read. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

christmas journal

Well, we’re back from our lovely Christmas trip – away since the 22nd.

First stop was Kelowna, where we took Auntie Sally out for lunch, visited E’s Dad, then crashed the annual turning-on-of-the-lights ceremony and wiener roast at Ernie’s brother’s house. It’s a rite-of-passage thing in their family with each year a different grandchild doing the honors of connecting the various strings of Christmas lights that grandpa has spent hours setting, followed by a wiener roast.

This year there was a cold wind. I personally did manage to char a smokie to eating temperature in the excellent roasting fire, but confess I retired to the kitchen to eat in warmth and comfort. (As not-yet-grandparents ourselves but always on the lookout for possible grandparent traditions, I must admit I’m not sure this one is exactly ‘us.’)

On Saturday, after a morning Merry Christmas drop-in to my brother and his family, we drove on to Kamloops. We had no problem finding the townhouse Sonia and Matt have newly purchased (November) and the bottom of their tree was soon jammed with gifts.

And so we spent Christmas with the Spooners!

Saturday evening we helped S. finish the shopping while M. did a four-hour shift of work. Sunday morning I made an apple pie for next day’s festive meal and then, after lunch, we joined the kids at church (where S. was helping lead worship and M. was in charge of the kids’ craft - “Do you know the real meaning of the candy cane?” he asked me earlier. Of course I'd forgotten which gave him the perfect chance to review his lesson beforehand.)

In the evening we drove out to Sorrento for a dinner with family and friends – but it began most inauspiciously by us getting stuck in our host’s driveway. All ended well, though, with the car shoveled and straightened out, and a very delicious turkey dinner.

Finally Christmas day. Gift time is always exciting for no matter how old your kids get.

She liked her sweater. He loved his drum kit from her.

Doesn’t this hat (from Benjie and Georgi - who we missed very much!) make him look distinguished? Hubby, out of an abundance of caution, bought me the same jacket in two sizes.

One fits S. and one fits me and so now daughter and mom have twin jackets.

And you can never get too much Body Shop!

After a late brunch, we went out to find the dike. The dike walk along the North Thompson is about 5 minutes from the kids’ house. Now that I could handle!

Then it was home to finish assembling our own turkey dinner. (Unfortunately somehow the screen door had got locked or jammed so we couldn't get in when we got back - yikes! But the kids had broken into their own house days earlier and left the kitchen window unlocked. Bad move – but good for us on Monday.)

The turkey dinner turned out scrumptious. We ended the evening by watching "Hotel Rwanda" (not exactly Christmas fare, but what a riveting film!).

Yesterday we lolled around the house, took a walk, ate more treats, watched more TV and then half of "The Pianist" (what a choice for Christmas - two genocidal war movies - but I would recommend this one too) after M. left for another shift of work. We ended the day with a visit to Wildlights – the Christmas light display at the Kamloops Wildlife Center and the remainder of "The Pianist."

Today E. and I drove home. The roads were clear though very icy in spots. In the mountains between Kamloops and Hope we passed about four accident scenes – sobering. As we neared home, we saw a huge billow of smoke on the horizon from an apartment building near us which was in flames (as we’d heard on the news), making us more thankful than ever to get back in one piece and find our cozy little home intact.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

raw, prolonged contact

As for me, he was the initiator of my understanding that Christianity is not about systems and God, but about individual people and the relationship they build through raw, prolonged contact with a creator who is genuinely and warmly interested in them.
Adrian Plass in Growing Up Pains, talking about Peter Ball, Bishop of Lews, whom he got to know on the set of the TV series Company.

Monday, December 18, 2006

monday (not exactly) mural

Our walk down Crescent Beach yesterday took us past "Meg’s Place" – a beach house that is not shy about celebrating Christmas. Piped Christmas music coming from somewhere on the property floated across the path and a peek into the yard revealed a festive fairyland. Every window was full of Christmas too, from the snowy villages displayed on the ledges of the gazebo, to the glassed-in verandahs full of snowmen. Doesn't such Christmas eye candy just make you feel like an awe-struck and delighted little kid?

More "Meg's Place" here.

Friday, December 15, 2006

seen on our walk today

Thursday, December 14, 2006

book review: - The Call - Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life

Title: The Call – Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life
Author: Os Guinness
Publisher: W Publishing Group - Thomas Nelson Inc., 2003
Genre: Christian Living, Practical Life, General
ISBN: 849944376

Are you looking for purpose in life? For a purpose big enough to absorb every ounce of your attention, deep enough to plumb every mystery of your passions, and lasting enough to inspire you to your last breath? This book is about the reason why we are each here on earth. It explores the deepest, highest, grandest purpose that any human has ever experienced and history has ever known – a reason so profound that no one and nothing else even comes close.

Os Guinness sets the bar high in his Introduction to The Call – Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life with the startling statement above. What follows is twenty nine chapters which go from an exploration of why people seek meaning and purpose to an examination of the value of such a search when viewed from the end of one’s life.

Though made accessible with an abundance of true life illustrations and quotes, this book is not light reading. Guinness’s approach is philosophical, both in subject matter (Why am I here?) and development.

In each chapter he builds his case with logic, so that you can’t read the first few paragraphs of a chapter, then skip to the end and understand how you got there. But if you pay attention Guinness leads step by step and delivers on his promises. He lays out his arguments clearly, specifying that he will, for example, answer a given question in three points and then doing so, identifying those points with marker words: “First, second, third etc.”

He makes his ideas clear, additionally by including a focused statement of the thesis of each chapter somewhere about a third of the way through. These statements are identified as key by being set in italic font. They are then reiterated at the chapter’s end in question form, also italicized.

An additional aid to understanding, in the edition I read at least, was a "Study Guide" at the end which asks questions about key ideas in each chapter and leads the reader to personalize what was read.

This book certainly resonated with me. I found it holistic, convincing and challenging dealing as it does with hot-button issues like motivation, the use of natural talents, money and time, and a preoccupation with helping the reader discover what is their unique purpose for existence. Chapters I found especially insightful were:
- Chapter 9 “The Audience of One.” It asks the question, “Who do you live to please?” and challenges the reader to live for an Audience of One: “A life lived listening to the decisive call of God is a life lived before one audience that trumps all others – the Audience of One.”

- Chapter 19 “Locked Out and Staying There.” This chapter deals with the modern phenomenon of keeping one’s faith and public life separate. It challenges the reader to live a faith which is socially relevant.

- Chapters 20 (“A Focused Life”), 25 (“The Hour Has Come”) and 29 (“Last Call”) These three chapters deal with the concept of time in one form or another. They challenge the reader to use time well, rely on God’s timing, and live to finish well.

The Call is a book I think Christian and non-Christian seekers alike will find a thought-provoking read. It may be one which even changes the course of a life.


Read "A Chat With Os Guinness" - transcript of a conversation between Os Guinness and questions via IM, posted by Navigators, 2001.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

december birding

We had a beautiful day for a walk today -- between storms. Now that the snow has finally disappeared, we can frequent some of our familiar haunts again. Today we walked along the Nicomekl River and caught sight of this heron sunning himself.

On a pond in Elgin Park I caught sight of this handsome Hooded Merganser pair. Don't they have quite the do?

Monday, December 11, 2006

white christmas

Our annual Christmas production at the church is history. Between Thursday night and last night, we put on this 1 hour and 45-minute program, “White Christmas,” six times to a nearly full house for every performance.

The program itself was a montage of music, arranged and performed in different styles, together with drama and dance (five monologues, with swing dancers opening and closing the program, and ballet dancers playing a big part in adding to the beauty and symbolism).

“What feeling did you get from the program?” I asked the friend who attended last night when we went out for coffee later.

She told me about the one song that choked her up. She said it was when the soloist and the choir sang the song: "This is Our God." During the song two ballet dancers are doing choreography in front of the manger scene (live characters posed in a manger scene box at the back of the stage). A little girl (maybe 8-9) has the main dance part, doing expressive motions to these lines:

This is our God, living and breathing
Call Him courageous, relentless and brave
This is our God, loving and reaching
Scandalous mercy and mighty to save...

This is our God, suffering and dying
Call Him the Hero, redeeming the lost
This is our God, loving sacrificing
All that is holy accepting our cross..."

Hallelujah This is our God - Sing praise (repeated numerous times as the chorus)

At the very end, after she'd done her dance (bear in mind, as choir members we weren't able to watch closely what was happening on stage during the songs we sang, so her description was news to me), she took off her ballet slippers and gave them to the baby Jesus

Oh my. Isn’t that a picture of where each one of us wants our efforts to end up, whether we sing, or write, or serve, or cook – given as a gift to Jesus?

I'm actually kind of glad I didn't know that part was in there - as I'm sure if I had, I would have lost it myself!

Anyway, it was a fabulous weekend singing and getting to know other choir members during our times off stage and between performances. Now for the other stuff of Christmas - shopping and such.

Photo: CLA E-bulletin

monday mural - Christmas extravaganza!

You have never seen Christmas murals like those David J. Hetland of Concordia College (Moorhead Minnesota)! Each mural was the backdrop of an annual Christmas concert at the college and reflected that year’s theme. Designed by Mr. Hetland, the murals were painted by volunteers under his supervision and were later recycled. (Viewing the murals in large gives one a sense of the scale – of how large and grand these paintings are in relation to the choir and orchestra.)

Some themes and related murals:
David J. Hetland was a nationally recognized designer known for his liturgical works in mosaic and stained glass. He died in April this year (2006).

Friday, December 08, 2006

don't forget the oil!

There is a story of an old man who carried a little can of oil with him everywhere he went, and if he passed through a door that squeaked, he poured a little oil on the hinges. If a gate was hard to open, he oiled the latch. And thus he passed through life lubricating all hard places and making it easier for those who came after him.

People called him eccentric, queer, and cranky; but the old man went steadily on refilling his can of oil when it became empty, and oiled the hard places he found.

There are many lives that creak and grate harshly as they live day by day. Nothing goes right with them. They need lubricating with the oil of gladness, gentleness, or thoughtfulness. Have you your own can of oil with you? Be ready with your oil of helpfulness in the early morning to the one nearest you. It may lubricate the whole day for him. The oil of good cheer to the downhearted one – oh how much it may mean! The word of courage to the despairing. Speak it.

Our lives touch others but once, perhaps, on the road of life; and then mayhap, our ways diverge, never to meet again. The oil of kindness has worn the sharp hard edges off of many a sin-hardened life and left it soft and pliable and ready for the redeeming grace of the Savior.

A word spoken pleasantly is a large spot of sunshine on a sad heart. Therefore, “Give others the sunshine, tell Jesus the rest.”

Streams in the Desert - by Mrs. Charles E. Cowman

Photo: The Christmas tree scene is a piece of unadulterated kitsch I picked up at Costco last year – but what fun! When you put batteries in it and flick a switch at the back, carols begins to play, lights flash inside the tree and other places, and the figures on the “ice” come to life, circling around and sometimes getting so dizzy they fall.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Christmas recipe round-up

is up at at Rebecca Writes.

Careful not to drool all over the keyboard!

christmas production

This evening we have the second dress rehearsal for our church’s Christmas production, “White Christmas.” Last night’s first dress rehearsal was predictably chaotic - yikes, will it actually ever come together into a smooth performance, considering all the hundreds of pieces that have to fit to make this a whole (two children’s choirs, one adult choir, drama characters, special music and dance groups, band, stage-hands, lighting board operator, sound board operator, computer, two live sheep...)

There have also been some attacks on the church building in the last few days. I refrain from giving details, as I don’t want to give any publicity to that quarter. All that to say, though, if you are reminded of our production in the next few days, could you pray? Performances are Thursday and Friday 7:30, Saturday and Sunday 3:30 and 7:30 PST.

Monday, December 04, 2006

monday mural - Christmas

I have no personal photos of Christmas murals – therefore no pictures to post. But there are some to be found on the web.

A mural artist named Cam has posted several Christmas mural works in progress.

View the almost finished first project here.

If you’re interested in how a garage-door-sized piece of canvas becomes a mural, check out his slide show, tracking the progress of the project above.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

rebecca's christmas recipe roundup

Rebecca is hosting a Christmas Recipe Roundup on her blog this coming Wednesday. Be part of it - here's how:

1. Post a favorite holiday recipe
2. Get the link to her* before 9AM PST on Wednesday, December 6. Recipes you've posted in previous years are welcome as long as the link still works.

* Email the link to her OR put it in the comments to this post.

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